Hare Hill House

Hare Hill House

(Photograph: Iain Spencer Gerrard)

  National News

Government's Lack of Strategic Planning Blamed for Poor Transport Options Across the United Kingdom

Environmental groups recently issued a manifesto (Improving Everyday Transport) which calls on the next Government to ensure that local, regional and national transport plans are integrated effectively to improve transport and ensure cost–effectiveness. Led by the Campaign for Better Transport (previously Transport 2000) and involving groups like the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE), the Cyclists Touring Club and Friends of the Earth, the manifesto sets out proposals which would radically improve transport while keeping spending within existing budgets. It draws on successful initiatives across the country which, if rolled out nationally, would:

Savings from existing transport budgets can be made, says the report, and there are opportunities to raise revenue fairly. For example:

Stephen Joseph, executive director of the Campaign for Better Transport, said: "Politicians tend to focus on the big transport schemes but this manifesto is about practical and affordable changes that can be made to improve everyday transport, giving people more choice in how they get about and making alternatives to cars easier and cheaper to use."

Neil Sinden, policy and campaigns director at Campaign to Protect Rural England, said: "The manifesto shows that we can develop alternatives to car dependency in the countryside. With optimism and long–term vision, we can show the pessimists that transport can be improved in rural and urban areas."

For full details, download the manifesto from here:



  Secretary's Notes

Civic Voice Initiative and Civic Voice

The creation of a new national body is now moving forward in a positive manner and a national meeting in April 2010 will lead to its establishment.

There has been some unhappiness at the way in which the Initiative has ignored and excluded the only properly elected representatives of the civic societies presently in existence i.e. the regional bodies. However as these collectively had failed to suggest any alternative way forward a decision had had to be made by your committee whether we were going to be involved with the nascent national body, the north west region, neither or both.

The current proposals from the Initiative have been published and have been forwarded to all of our members, who have supplied us with a web address, as soon as they had been received.

The suggested amount of money needed annually to run such a body is already enormous. It is not clear what the money will be spent on and it is felt that the Initiative may be trying to run before it can walk, although it is faced with a classic chicken and egg situation.

It is clear that as the Initiative has made no reference to funding any regional bodies the regions will have to fund themselves if they wish to continue; this would mean that societies would be being asked for money from both national and regional bodies which it was felt was unlikely to be received with any great relish and also raised the distinct possibility of splitting the civic society movement.

We held a special meeting of the committee in January to discuss all the proposals and to formulate a letter giving our comments to send to the Initiative as they had requested.

Having discussed in committee the pros and cons of joining the new national body, now to be called Civic Voice, we have decided to do so. The cost to our group is at least half as much again as we used to pay the Civic Trust but we hope that the Civic Voice will start to pull itself together over the next year and offer some real benefits.

After countrywide consultation, the new body has been planned with the stated intention of being open to change once the various societies become members, so we needn't fear that the same attitude which prevailed in the Civic Trust will return in Civic Voice; the promise is for there to be control from and by the grass roots of the movement and not by some out–of–touch group at the top.

We have to admit that this is a 'leap of faith' on our part as we are being expected to pay up before opening the box to see what we've bought! There is at present no constitution and consequently no charitable status.

Nevertheless we felt that becoming members would give us the best opportunity to influence how the Civic Voice developed and if we are unhappy at the end of a year we simply withdraw from any further connection to it.

North West Association of Civic Trusts and Societies

We have also decided to remain as members of this regional organisation for another year, to give it an opportunity to show its usefulness. The difference now is that membership is no longer free but luckily for us one of our committee has magnanimously offered to pay a year's subscription, £40, out of their own pocket!

This body you may recall was originally set up by the Civic Trust, along with eight other regions, to represent the Trust at a regional level, broadly to respond to the Governmental regional bodies which had been created at the same time. It has now been in operation for about eight years and has played a significant role in matters such as the formulation of the Regional Spatial Strategy. It has also independently created a booklet on Conservation Area Awareness which has been sent to all the local authorities in the north–west and all the member societies.

Rochdale Canal Towpath Resurfacing

I alerted members of the committee to the proposals to resurface the Rochdale Canal towpath from Littleborough to Warland (and eventually on into Calderdale) in January and with their approval sent a letter of objection to various people including the Pennine Councillors, Paul Rowen, the area head of British Waterways, the Waterways Trust, SUSTRANS and the local authority.

Our reason for objecting to this work was because the intention was to resurface the towpath with a mixture of crushed stone and tar spraying, an unsuitable material for what is essentially a country path.

We were not alone in our concerns and other bodies such as the Towpath Action Group, the Ramblers' Association and the Horseboating Society had also written to object.

While there have been rumours of this work over the last four or five years no specific details have ever been put forward and it came as a disturbing shock to realise that the work was already proceeding along the canal around Smithy Bridge.

This lack of consultation with local groups by SUSTRANS et al was, it was suggested, because the money for the work had only been approved in November of last year and the work had to be completed by the end of March. It seemed to us that these were very poor excuses as those involved had been clearly aware of the intention for much longer than a month or two and, it turned out, the work from Littleborough to the Summit had only to begin before the end of March to guarantee the funding.

In more detail the objections were that a tar based application would inevitably lead to continuing ponding following rain as the waterproof layer would impede the drainage: it would 'urbanise' the appearance of what was a path in the country; there was also a worry that a smooth surface would allow cyclists to speed up and would attract motorcyclists to use the towpath.

A sensible solution has been suggested which would satisfy the undisputed need for towpath improvement while retaining the qualities of the countryside. This would probably cost more per metre but as some existing sections of the towpath are already satisfactory and don't need any resurfacing at all, the cost would balance out.

A visit by myself to the work in progress at Smithy Bridge showed that what was being laid was composed of a very shallow scraping of the existing surface (perhaps an inch) followed by a layer of similar thickness of quarry bottoms stone; quarry bottoms, as the name suggests is usually the residual bits following quarrying and is made up of stone chips from half an inch size down to dust (plenty of the latter!).

It seemed to me that this was not appropriate and the thickness was inadequate. No attempt was being made to channel ponding water into the canal other than by chance.

At one point the work had created a large fissure in the towpath running for some feet parallel to the canal. This was probably due to the washwall of the canal subsiding due to the weight of the machines being used. The washwall is in dire need of repair for many hundreds of yards but that is another story.

Because of the strength of feeling displayed by so many, those who were involved with the works decided to temporarily hold back the work beyond Littleborough and hold a meeting with all interested parties.

This meeting, which I attended, was run by SUSTRANS and I felt was biased towards the need to get on with the work rather than to listen and, where necessary, act upon the comments of the objectors.

This has seemingly been subsequently borne out by a letter from the Waterways Trust contact essentially saying that nothing was going to change.

I have to say that this seems to me to be quite typical of many government bodies, both local and national, where it is claimed that consultation has taken place (often, as in this case, a blatant lie) and, with an insufferable arrogance, to then continue on their merry way.

Birch Hill Hospital Site

We have not commented previously on this site because it is, strictly speaking, outside our area of concern i.e. Littleborough. However we have been asked for our comments on the application by the Planning department and we were also aware that the size of the proposed development is such that it will undoubtedly impact upon Littleborough.

We have met with the planning development officer and have held two other meetings of our own planning sub–committee which agreed the following observations.

The site is divided into two separate issues, or sets of issues, one being the reuse of the main existing hospital buildings, including the clock tower, for apartments and the rest of the site which is intended for more conventional development.

Birch Hill Clock Tower

Birch Hill Clock Tower

Photograph: Iain Spencer Gerrard

We were pleased that the remaining existing buildings are to be retained and that attempts were being made to modify them sensitively for their new purpose. The removal of two access towers on the front elevation (facing Union Street) is sensible as these were late editions and completely unsympathetic to the rest of the elevation. However the suggested redesign of the exposed area seemed unsuitable to us being rather lightweight in appearance. Similar extensions to the rear elevation with pitched roofs appeared to us to provide a more attractive solution.

The rest of the site which has conventional housing and which seems to bear no relationship visually with the older buildings is less satisfactory architecturally.

The designs of these as presented could be built anywhere in England and show no attempt to reflect the architecture of the older buildings.

Overall the number of dwellings would appear to suggest that the number of people accommodated within the site would be approximately 1000 which is equivalent to a 20% increase to the population of Wardle. This small village along with Smallbridge is already poorly served with appropriate infrastructure services yet no attempt appears to be being made to improve this deficit. We are aware that the introduction of small groups of shops as practiced in previous generations of housing developments were not always successful and we didn't suggest that they should be provided on this site, but other needs such as a community meeting hall, possibly containing entertainment space, and medical services (doctor & dentist) are hardly allowed for at all. The existing chapel is to be retained and it was suggested somewhat vaguely in the application that it might be used for offices or as a crèche. We have not been able to gain access to the site but from the drawings it appears somewhat small and is unlikely to satisfy the need for additional services in itself.

The additional burden on local schools supplied another factor for concern; we are aware that the nearby Wardle School is already at capacity. Such considerations are not just a matter of convenience for the new occupants of the site and should essentially be located nearby in order to reduce unnecessary vehicle journeys which add to the often chronic road congestion already evident. If local schools are full, then on–site opportunities for social cohesion are even more important.

We commented on car parking proposals and the need to consider the inevitable conflict between pedestrians and vehicles pointing out that the design of the site roads was not optimal for pedestrian safety.

We pointed out that bin storage both for the main apartment block and the individual houses was considered to be less than might be needed in the future when a minimum of four separate bins was expected per housing unit and we felt that these should be stored out of sight and under cover if possible.

In an effort to reduce car usage further we felt that walkways and cycleways had been given insufficient consideration including the provision of cycle storage facilities.

Some affordable housing is promised, approximately 10% of the total number of units, but we were not convinced that they would be all that affordable in reality.

Finally in view of the historical aspects of the site we felt that some form of permanent signage could be provided at each of the main entrances. These would give a brief history of the buildings beginnings as a workhouse in the nineteenth century and becoming a hospital in the twentieth, with a few appropriate and interesting pictures from the past. This could be incorporated with an overall plan of the site which visitors would find useful. It was also felt that a plaque could be attached to the main building.

Hare Hill House Internal Survey

Stair balustrade at ground floor

Termination of stair balustrade at ground floor

Photograph: Iain Spencer Gerrard

Members of the committee have now carried out this survey in which we attempted to identify any important details of the old house which we felt ought to be retained and repaired if possible.

These included items such as plaster cornices, skirtings, staircases and handrails, doors and furniture etc.

It was pleasantly surprising how much remained despite many alterations and years of neglect by the Council.

This information will now be presented to the MoorEnd Development Trust in the form of a gazetteer which will aid any discussions with grant providers in the future.

Iain Spencer Gerrard


  The Establishment of Hollingworth Lake Country Park

In the second article of this series, Rae Street provides a personal history of Hollingworth Lake Country Park.

When my husband and I first came to live in Littleborough, over 40 years ago, my father said straight away, "Hollingworth Lake, 'T'Weighvers' Sea Port'". He was brought up in Queensbury, near Halifax (once the highest township in England) which is still known for its Black Dyke Mills Band. The mill now is closed and just a jumble of signs where the huge stone buildings once hummed with cloth manufacture. My father, because his father was killed in the First World War, was taken on as a 'half-timer' at the age of 12. This was supposed to be a generous gesture on behalf of the mill owners; even more so because he was judged to be 'bright' and given a job in the office and not on the factory floor. But it was no easy option being an errand boy from early morning and then going to school in the afternoon. No wonder then that the highlights of his time there were the mill 'outings'. He could clearly remember coming over to Littleborough in a 'charabanc' to enjoy the delights of the Lake. A day for fun and fresh air, away from the grind, smoke and racket of the mill.

We too were delighted with the Pennine countryside on our doorstep and the walks around and from the Lake, although the first winter of the big snow in 1962, meant we didn't actually make it all round the Lake! Later in the summer we began to see the problems which were arising, for example, when more people had a whole weekend holiday and more people owned cars. On a sunny day there could be a gridlock round the Lake. The area around was also run down and litter strewn. One of what could have been the prettiest paths to the Lake, through Ealees valley, past the town rubbish dump. You had to fight your way through the plastic bags and litter.

So, by the 1970s, the members of the newly formed Littleborough Civic Trust, all volunteers from a wide variety of backgrounds, decided to prepare a report for the establishment of a Country Park, itself also a recently launched initiative.

The criteria for a Country Park included:

  • It should be an area of countryside of at least 25 acres
  • It should be readily accessible to the public
  • There should be activities for the casual visitor as well as regular users such as rowers or bird watchers.

The report the Civic Trust, completed after extensive work with local residents, was submitted in October, 1972. After gaining strong support from the then Greater Manchester County Council and the local MP (later Lord) Joel Barnett, Hollingworth Lake Country Park was opened in 1974.

During the intervening years, Trust members had given hours of spare time to meetings and helping with the planning. For example, thanks to the determination of one member to save the small stone bridge which takes the road up Bear Hill to Hollingworth Fold, it became known as Rita's bridge and it is still there to this day.

Because of the diligence of another of our members, the proposed Visitor Centre was changed from the original brick design to a building with 'stone effect' outside walls and in keeping with traditional Pennine buildings.

Activities and the use of the park have grown and grown in the following thirty years. New nature reserves have been created, fishing platforms provided, a bird hide built, and extensive plantings of trees and wild flowers, paths, walls and fences have been maintained and improved. This has all happened alongside the continuation and growth of the traditional, and some new, water sports activities.

The Visitor Centre and the Pavilion have popular cafes and regular exhibitions on themes of interest. There are also plenty of planned regular activities, including for children and younger people who now have their own play space.

One of the most recent developments has been the setting up the group, Friends of Hollingworth Lake, who have been energetic in accessing grants for improvements to the Lake and its surroundings. You can see some of their work in the Sensory Garden near the Visitor Centre. But they are also planning to improve footpaths, help with signage and interpretation boards and open a Heritage Trail. The Friends want to see improvements so that the area can be of maximum benefit not to only local people but to all the visitors who come from across the region — and beyond. Above all, they want to keep the original concept of the Country Park, which stretches back to Victorian times: pleasure and exercise in the Pennine countryside.

There are problems at the moment, not least the national problem of funding, alongside that is interest and support for the Country Park.

One huge problem with the Lake as a recreation area has existed since the beginning. This is the road from the bottom of Bear Hill to where the Lake path turns away from Rakewood Road. This stretch of road is in a bad state of disrepair. Even worse, there is no separation between walkers and the traffic. There is absolutely nowhere safe for children, wheel chair users, the hard of hearing — well everyone walking there for enjoyment. We cannot say it is an accident waiting to happen because there have been several in recent years although thankfully none fatal. After the seriousness of the situation had been raised again and again, the Pennine Township committee gave a grant for a Feasibility Study on options for a solution. But nothing has come of it. However local people and the countryside wardens have always found ways to improve the facilities — and I am sure they will continue.

Rae Street


  A Tale of Two Gateposts

Sited on a section of the Rakewood Road where it passes alongside Hollingworth Lake, near the lake overflow channel, are two large, odd shaped iron gateposts. Whereas a casual visitor would walk past them with blinkered eyes, the more discerning may have wondered why a medium sized gate had required such large gateposts: Both would have departed none the wiser. In point of fact these gateposts are in reality rather special historical artefacts, for they were built 200 years ago, not as gateposts but as "Gas Retorts".

These retorts were used to heat coal sealed in a confined space inside the retort, whereby heat from the fire under the retort would drive off the more volatile constituents of the coal in the form of a mixture of gases, leaving a residue of coke and tar. Coal gas being lighter than air rose to the top of the retort, from where it was piped away for use as lighting or to power a small gas engine. Primitive as it was, gas lighting was years ahead of candlelight. With the gas output of this type of retort being relatively low and uneconomical in its use of coal, they would in all probability have been restricted for use in cottage type industries. These were usually sited in remote rural areas, where coal was more plentiful and cheap.

Gatepost at Lake

Historic Gatepost at Hollingworth Lake

Photograph: Allen Holt

By and large hand–loom weaving was the most prolific cottage industry, consequently many farmers/smallholders seized the opportunity to augment their meagre existence. For they had all the required components on site viz — Plenty of room to install the machinery, looms, warping frames etc./enough people living at or near the farm to work the machines/coal aplenty — some farmers owned their own coal mine, others mined it illegally. A gas retort used for lighting enabled longer hours to be worked, producing even more cloth.

Perhaps at this juncture it should be noted just how intermittent development in the textile industry was during the Industrial Revolution. Two patented inventions kick–started the automation of the textile industry: Sir Richard Arkwright's spinning frame in 1767, and Samuel Crompton's spinning mule in 1779. In consequence cottonspinning surged ahead to the point where high quality yarn was being produced commercially on a vast scale. Conversely, weaving was lagging far behind, for when the first steam powered loom appeared circa 1800 it was a crude machine that initially could not match the quality of handwoven cloth. The few years it took before that particular problem had been resolved proved to be the golden age of hand–loom weaving. When the likes of the aforementioned farmers/smallholders and other would–be textile magnates prospered.

This type of gas retort, which had been a godsend to hand–loom weavers, survived until the mid 1840s, when town gas began to be made readily available throughout the country. It was then that they began to be used as gateposts, a sensible alternative to being sold off as scrap iron.

The retorts were made of wrought iron, a malleable iron containing slag in the form of vitrified particles elongated in one direction, and, with a very low carbon content, rendered it virtually rust-resistant. Which would explain why they are so well preserved to this day. These retorts are not unique, for they are to be seen in several rural areas of Lancashire where they invariably ended up being used as gateposts.

Nevertheless, the Hollingworth Lake retorts–cum–gateposts are thought to be the only ones in the immediate locality, and should therefore be regarded as part of our industrial heritage and preserved. So, the next time you walk round Hollingworth Lake please pause and take a close look at these gateposts, for they really are important industrial relics. But watch your back for hereabouts the road is narrow and there is no public footpath.

Allen Holt

See Rae Street's article above for the latest on this stretch of the Lakeside.


  The Stone Head

When members of the newly formed Littleborough Civic Trust inspected the Coach House building in 1979, they found amongst the debris a roughly carved stone head. The head had an inverted V shape at its base, suggesting that it was originally mounted on the apex of a doorway or gable.

During the renovation of the Coach House building, volunteers were used including Youth Opportunity Workers. Unfortunately some of these young men decided to drop the stone head through the ceiling — hence some of the obvious damage, such as that to the nose.

Stone Head as discovered

The stone head,
as discovered in the Coach House

Photograph: Don Pickis

Following the opening of the Coach House, it was believed that the Stone Head had been sent to York Museum. So I was surprised to find it sitting under a table in the Information Centre.

Stone Heads of this type are typical of certain areas of the United Kingdom, particularly West Yorkshire and the Calder Valley. The roughly hewn heads typically show eyes, nose and mouth. They are often found on the outside of buildings (probably as a form of protection) for example on doorways, gateways, bridges or wells. John Billingsley, who has researched and written widely on the subject of stone heads, speculates that they may function as a form of ceremonial boundary demarcation.

It may be that some heads placed on the outside of buildings fulfilled a defensive or ritualistic purpose.

It is suggested that the origin of stone heads can be found in Celtic times; this may also explain why so many are found in the Calderdale and Airedale valleys. Later, when the general affluence of the late mediæval period resulted in rebuilding of homes in stone, the stone head appears in the Calder Valley, particularly on the houses of yeomanry. Billingsley writes that many stone heads are 'archaic', that is non–naturalistic. They tend to be pear–shaped, although circular faces are found more often in gable locations. The front of the face tends to be flat with features incised or carved in equal relief. As with the Coach House head, the eyes are oval and the outline of the nose carries on above the eyes to meet the brows. Expressions are rare probably because this would detract from the symbolic intent.

It is rarely possible to date a particular carved head. Although the origins of the first stone heads are lost in early history, the tradition of carving stone heads has been passed down from one generation to another through the centuries. It is therefore difficult to identify whether a head is extremely old or whether it is a relatively recent example of an ancient tradition. In this area, the two most well known examples of stone heads are the two 'Touch Stones' originally from Wardle and now in the entrance to the Rochdale museum. It is interesting to find that Littleborough and Wardle share this historical feature with other Pennine areas.

The stone head is a wonderful and mysterious relic from the past, and deserves a fitting display. I am pleased to say that, following discussions with Rochdale Arts and Heritage Service and the Coach House management it has been agreed that the head will be installed in the Coach House on a pedestal in a Perspex display case, to be tailor made by the museum.

Thanks are due to Andrew Moore from the Heritage Resource Centre who assisted in the identification of the Stone Head.

Billingsley, John 'Stoney Gaze' 1998 Capall Bann

Margaret Edwards


Editor: Brian Walker